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This is the real face of the Ukraine war – weekly briefing

Originally published: Counterfire on May 2, 2022 (more by Counterfire)

This was the week the war in Ukraine changed. Until now, as the New York Times put it: ‘President Biden and his Western allies have warned against any attempts to frame the conflict as a direct confrontation between the U.S. and Russia. But no longer.’ The signs have been particularly clear, from Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s declaration that the U.S. goal was to ‘weaken Russia’ to Liz Truss’s speech when she declared that full defeat of Russia is a ‘strategic imperative’, the message has been that this is not just about ending the war in Ukraine but about going much further including regime change in Russia.

The huge increase in arms and aid proposed by Biden–to a whacking $33 billion–is another indicator, as is the clamour to send more and more arms to Ukraine. NATO now believes that Russia can be pushed back from the whole of Ukraine. Nancy Pelosi and Angelina Jolie have given the liberal seal of approval to this conflict by their visits to Kyiv, where Pelosi frames it as a conflict for freedom.

This is now a proxy war between NATO and Russia and one which can very quickly escalate further. Indeed the alternatives in this war are fairly simple: it either escalates rapidly so that NATO forces threaten war with Russia with an understanding that they are prepared to do so, or they accept that Ukraine is going to have to make some sort of deal with Russia, which will of course not mean the full defeat for Russia that Truss demands. You would be foolish to bet that the latter is likely to happen any time soon, given that Biden, Johnson, Truss and other politicians have been dismissing talks with Putin as unrealistic.

So a bigger war is now on the agenda. There will be terrible costs, not least to the Ukrainian people who have already suffered war and who may be faced with a much more prolonged conflict where they will lose lives, homes and any sense of stability. Russian casualties–at least 15,000 troops dead according to estimated figures–are astonishingly high for such a short period of conflict and will go higher. But there will be costs further afield. This is most obvious in the threat of greater conflict, in Moldova for example, but also a growing prospect of direct war between nuclear powers which must alarm us all.

There are also economic costs. Food and energy prices were already rising rapidly before the war in Ukraine, but war has pushed them higher still. There are now shortages of sunflower oil and wheat, and the sanctions on energy. The EU is likely to tighten existing sanctions which will mean shortages of gas or much higher prices, possibly both. This will be an immediate problem for central Europe but will have a knock-on effect here.

Already we are being told that we have to expect hard times: that we need to ‘take the hit’, tighten our belts, be prepared for war. Why should anyone accept this from Johnson, or Biden, or Macron or Schulz, who have presided over a COVID pandemic, where responses were too often dictated by profit, a cost of living crisis unprecedented for decades, and whose neoliberal system is now descending into war?

Those on the left who urge more arms to Ukraine are presumably delighted with this turn in the conflict. They should not be. It will prolong and worsen the situation and it will also further economic crisis and attacks on working people here.

Corbyn’s policies still make a lot of sense

Labour’s leadership is clearly intent in turning the party into a Blairite sect. How else to explain–just four days before elections–the clamour to tell us how wonderful Tony Blair’s governments were. If only Keir Starmer were more like Blair then he would sweep to victory, goes the argument. Yet Blair squandered a huge landslide in 1997 through commitment to neoliberalism, privatisation, refusing the repeal the anti-union laws–and of course war, which became his particular addiction. Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in 2015 was a rejection of these policies. It is the Corbyn legacy that Starmer and the Blairites want to bury.

Yet as we have the triple crisis of war, COVID and the cost of living, it is Corbyn’s policies that make sense in dealing with them, not Blair’s. Public ownership, windfall and wealth taxes, decent funding and pay for the public sector, and a policy of peace and opposition to NATO expansion all make sense. Blair would have nothing essentially different to say on all of these from the Tories.

I don’t know how this week’s elections will go. Starmer is doing better in the polls but still obviously lacks popular support because he is so wooden, cautious and uninspiring. Blair himself seems to be trying to create a new cross party neoliberal outfit because even he isn’t inspired by Starmer. But if people hate the Tories, they are most likely to vote Labour: that is simply a fact. So I have much sympathy for those Corbynites in despair with Labour, but wanting them to lose on Thursday isn’t going to take us forward–it will just give an undeserved boost to the Tories.

The house of horrors

MPs looking at porn in the Commons chamber. Over 50 being investigated for some sort of sexual misconduct. Any other public sector workplace would be in special measures, not rewarded with some of the best salaries, pensions, holidays, expenses and other perks that are the daily life of our elected representatives. The institutional misogyny and sexism in parliament, the police and other major institutions is glaringly apparent and if anything getting worse. There is no serious attempt to root it out or to deal with its perpetrators.

Porn is itself about the objectification of sex and particularly women. It is particularly galling to me that women’s oppression is all too often downplayed, even by some on the left. Because women are an oppressed majority their oppression is treated as almost commonplace. Dealing with it properly would require the fundamental upheaval in capitalist society that a revolution would bring. So instead we get lip service to diversity and equality agendas, the gender pay gap, MeToo, which coexist with the most appalling attitudes and economic and social discrimination against women.

More women MPs aren’t going to help this. Strong and organised movements of women–supported by men who have everything to gain from women’s liberation–will do.

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